Friday March 8, Donovan Sherman (Seton Hall) will give a paper titled "Acting Indifferently: The Stoic Exercise of Much Ado about Nothing."
Leonato, in Much Ado about Nothing, complains that a Stoic philosopher could never “suffer a toothache patiently” (5.1.36). His quip relies on the assumption, popular in Shakespeare’s day and ours, that Stoicism venerates an overly cerebral approach to life, one that crumbles when faced with the fact of bodily sensation. This talk recovers an understanding of Stoicism that, by contrast, explicitly promoted a mode of corporeal engagement cultivated through rigorous self-examination and heightened attentiveness to one’s experience—a mode, in short, of performance, not of intellectual doctrine. I propose that when theatrically realized, Much Ado, despite Leonato’s protests, practices a form of Stoic exercise (askesis) on its audience by curating a critical mode of indifference (apatheia). The talk traces a wider context of early modern Stoic practice by exploring the play’s engagement with translations and adaptations of Stoic work, in particular Castiglione’s ambivalent appropriation of Cicero. More broadly, I hope to offer a case study of how Shakespeare’s dramaturgy can be read not only as an archive of received ideas but as a repertoire of potential actions.
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The event will be held in Faculty House, 64 Morningside Drive. As usual, social hour will be from 5-6, dinner 6-7, and the talk 7-8:30. The cost for dinner, payable by check only, is $30. When you RSVP please indicate whether or not you plan to come to dinner; please give 10 days advance notice.